Is the Streaming Industry Lying About Piracy?

Is Streaming Making Piracy Worse?
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Streaming kills piracy, right? Maybe it’s not that simple.

Over the past ten years, the music industry has profoundly transformed to the point of becoming unrecognizable. The traditional business structure has been replaced by a profound digital disruption, one that has provoked major shifts in the way music fans discover, consume and pay for music.

And throughout that roiling transformation, piracy remains a complicated phenomenon that doesn’t seem to be going away.  The question is, why it isn’t completely dead, especially given the ubiquitous, legal listening options now available?  That includes streaming platforms like Spotify, SoundCloud, and YouTube, a group gives themselves plenty of credit for eliminating piracy.

One of the biggest changes affecting the music industry isn’t the technology itself, but rather the resulting mindset of music listeners, particularly towards the value of music itself.   Starting with the rise of peer-to-peer programs like Napster, consumers started to fundamentally change their attitudes.  Fast-forward to 2016, and most fans believe that they should have access to the music they want to listen to, whenever they want to listen to it, for free.

In that context, streaming services like Pandora, YouTube, Spotify and most recently Apple Music and Tidal have entered, with different approaches to that psychology.  But despite aggressive efforts to get music fans to pay for music, the vast majority of people are still discovering and consuming music for free.

That said, free platforms like YouTube and Spotify’s ad-supported tiers are now legal, which has driven considerable traffic away from illegal platforms like BitTorrent.  Some question what the difference is, and strangely, BitTorrent and piracy platforms are still going strong, along with a myriad of other free sources.  In fact, a recent study showed that piracy is actually increasing, not decreasing.

So if streaming music is actually killing piracy, why is it taking so long to die?

Logically, it makes sense that free streaming would replace free piracy (which typically involves the more cumbersome download).  And given the fact that music fans can get virtually all the music they want on YouTube, Spotify, or SoundCloud, there seems to be no need for them to go searching for music on illegal sites.

And there’s some research to support this: just recently, a European Commission study offered evidence that Spotify displaces piracy (while also killing paid downloads).  But there’s also research offering directly conflicting information.  For example, a recent study by Cisco Visual Networking found that illegal file-sharing in North America grew 44% from 2008 to 2014.  And just recently, a MusicWatch study found that 57 million Americans frequently use pirate sites for music, which is approximately 20% of the American population.

That study also unearthed something interesting: the mix of piracy methods is also diversifying, with YouTube ‘stream-ripping’ among several active acquisition methods.   YouTube’s growth means more YouTube piracy, all of which suggests that streaming services are not killing piracy at all, merely shifting the mix of players a bit.

Meanwhile, the biggest proponents of the ‘streaming kills piracy’ narrative are streaming services themselves.  Spotify’s Daniel Ek, for example, has routinely pointed to the specter of free torrenting, and the role that streaming has played in reducing this threat.  SoundCloud’s Eric Wahlfross has done the same, even claiming that piracy ‘is not something anyone talks about anymore,’ and that ‘the new generation doesn’t pirate music.’

Then, there’s the piracy impact created by the intense competition between rival streaming services.  In the ruthless one-upping, these services have started streaming exclusives as a strategy to increase subscriber numbers and crush competition.  In the process, narrowed availability can translate into greater piracy.  Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo, for example, was illegally downloaded over half a million times as a direct result of making it a Tidal exclusive.  That exlcusive patchwork is dangerous, especially with piracy alive, well, and welcoming to the disaffected.

In all of this, there’s one sophisticated group that doesn’t think piracy has been so decimated: major consumer brands.  On illegal download and torrent sites, it’s fairly common to see placements from the likes of American Express, Ford, United Airlines, and even Netflix (among many, many others).  These are companies struggling to reach coveted demographics, which includes ‘this generation’ of 18-34s that seem perfectly prevalent on piracy channels.

(Image by WarX, edited by Manuel Strehl, Creative Commons, Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, cc by-sa 3.0)

5 Responses

  1. richard Allen

    Charlotte: because the RIAA never sued anyone black, and there are thousands of rap hip hop underground, R&B internet stations that do not pay any royalties,

    • Anonymous

      “because the RIAA never sued anyone black”

      Dude, changing your name doesn’t really work for you.

  2. Anonymous

    “On illegal download and torrent sites, it’s fairly common to see placements from the likes of American Express, Netflix, Ford, United Airlines, and even Netflix (among many, many others)”

    Thanks for providing the actual names of a couple of prominent piracy supporters.

    And you probably mentioned Netflix twice by mistake, 🙂 but they definitely deserve the extra attention.

  3. Name2

    “Is the RIAA lying about ad-based streaming?”

    Yeah, I could do this all day…

  4. Jack B Nimble

    Piracy has played a major role in the empowerment of the people. There is no doubt in that. Because the long standing nature of the entertainment business (and others) have had their hands deep in pockets for a very long time. How do you think an actor gets paid millions from one movie? Is it truly right for Dustin Hoffman to make 20 million from a single movie? Where does the money come from? Big sales. But piracy has cut the strings between YOU and HOLLYWOOD. They cant sell movies any more. Same applies to music and books. I for one have been just as guilty in downloading movies, music, books, and software over the years. Especially coming from a family who couldn’t afford to buy it all. And I am sure that millions have the same reason.

    Its a paradise for the downloaders. But we ARE paying for everything we get free. How? Our children are paying for it for us. When they grow up, they will not have the opportunities to become high paid actors, musicians, authors, It developers. And many other fields. All because all the hard work is in vain. Being drained by WE the freeloaders. Hollywood. Nashville. They will crash and burn. And will resurface elsewhere in a different state. But the attitude of society will be far different. Entitlement will run rampant. People wanting things NOW. Literally this minute. “Pull over so we can watch this movie that just came out!”

    Furthermore. Hollywood and music made the best entertainment throughout the 20th century. And it has gone downhill since then. Even before piracy. So it was a given to break the industry. It was meant to be. But the only thing to save it and make it what it should be is to finally digitize everything. Get rid of anonymity. And lock it all down. You buy it. You stream it. And you do it all with your SS number. And if there is any attempt at pirating, that person will promptly be found and jailed. Security is NOT the problem. Politics have been blocking the most sensible solution to our problems. Give the businesses back their power. Because it represents hopes and dreams for all those who aspire. By killing the industry, you are killing yourselves. The rich will stay rich. Meanwhile, those who aspire will be crushed completely with no hope of ever making it anywhere. It is just putting us in the poor house. Spreading the wealth and making everything socialistic is a huge mistake. One that has failed every single time throughout history. If we are all at the same level, there is no point in looking UP. Because nothing is up there except the same few who will die there. And their offspring will stay there as well. But those who are poor will always be poor.